In a majority judgment, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Aadhaar scheme empowers people on the margins of society and gives them dignity, which far outweighs the harm that it is supposed to cause. It that pronounced the national identity card 'constitutionally valid' but with conditions.One can't throw the baby out with the bathwater,' he judges said, upholding the scheme which collects biometric data from every citizen.
It said that private companies cannot insist on Aadhaar data and banks and phone companies cannot insist on Aadhaar-linking, said the five-member constitutional bench. Aadhaar, however, has to be linked to citizens' Permanent Account Number (PAN) information for filing tax returns.
The court also clarified where it is not mandatory. It is not compulsory for school admissionsand 'no child shall be denied benefits for the want of Aadhaar.'
The court said that 'Aadhaar gives dignity to marginalised sections, which outweighs the harm,' in the verdict on 27 petitions that challenged the constitutional validity of the national identity card and called it a violation of the right to privacy. The court said 'very, very minimal data' is collected for Aadhaar, that other documents needed for Aadhaar are also proof of identity.
Over one billion Indians have already signed up for it, set up to be a secure form of digital identification for citizens to be used for government services. The 12-digit Unique Identification Number was made compulsory for bank accounts, PAN cards, cellphone services, passport and even driving licenses. It was made the overarching proof of identity and residence, overriding all other prior identity proofs.
The court ruling addressed concerns about privacy, data security and recourse for citizens in the face of data leaks. The petitioners had argued that Aadhaar, that has been built on a mammoth biometric database comprising fingerprints and iris scans, cannot be made mandatory. The huge database can easily be compromised, they said, pointing out that a law that 'impacts human life can't remain a law'.
The Centre had defended Aadhaar on several grounds, the biggest being that it ensured proper distribution of benefits to millions and prevented siphoning of funds. Aadhaar data is safe and cannot be breached, the government insisted and the Aadhaar authority UIDAI. The Prime Ministerm Mr. Narendra Modi, had said Aadhaar represented the march of technology and those opposing it 'have lagged behind in technology -- either they cannot understand or are purposely spreading lies'.
Hearings in the case started in January and went on for 38 days, the second longest hearing after the Keshavananda Bharti case that questioned if parliament's power to amend the Constitution was unlimited, to the extent of taking away all fundamental rights. That hearing in 1973 went on for five months.